music / Columns

Jam Central Station: The Black Crowes

October 8, 2016 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

It’s pretty unbelievable that the Black Crowes, often considered one of the quintessential classic blues-based rock bands, isn’t really classic rock at all. The band got their start right around the same time that many grunge heavyweights were getting started. The band released their first album in 1990. They’re truly one of the greatest rock bands to come out since the 90’s, and probably the most successful rock band that stayed in the classic rock style of ZZ Top, Clapton, and the Rolling Stones. They’ve had mass appeal and, despite a few roadblocks, have maintained a solid following for over more than two decades. While trends have changed and musical movements have come and gone, The Black Crowes have proved that the sound of classic rock never dies.

The band got their start in the mid-80’s, with brothers Chris and Rich Robinson serving as the core of early incarnations of the band. The band truly came together in 1989 with Johnny Colt on bass and Jeff Cease on guitar. Georgia was a musical hotbed at the time, and The Black Crowes were able to sign a record deal and quickly release their first album. The Robinson brothers had been honing their sound over the years, and they found themselves emulating the classic rock sound of The Faces and similar early rock bands. Their 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker was an obvious tribute to the music that the Robinson brothers grew up with and loved.

The album struck all of the right chords with listeners and was a huge success. They had numerous hit singles, and songs like “She Talks To Angels,” “Jealous Again,” and “Hard to Handle” have become rock radio staples. The band toured on the album, and they also generated their fair share of controversy. While the tension between the Richardson brothers hadn’t come to a head at this point, the band did get kicked off of a tour with ZZ Top after bashing the tour sponsor, Miller beer, on stage. The band instead toured on their own, filling venues and touring across the globe.

The band followed up the release with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in 1992. They had switched guitarists by this point, with Cease leaving the band and Marc Ford coming aboard. The album also featured Chuck Leavell from the Allman Brothers on keyboards, so the band brought in Eddie Harsch as their permanent keyboard player. The album was just as successful as the debut, with four hit singles and solid sales and a tour to follow. This was one of the high points of the band, with a steady lineup and tremendous success both in sales and on the road.

Their third album Amorica generated controversy even before being released. The album cover featured a woman in a bikini bottom with hair sticking out. Many retailers refused to sell the album with the cover, forcing an alternate cover to be released. The album was released in the midst of the grunge revolution, meaning that the classic rock style of The Black Crowes wasn’t the force that it had been a few years prior. While the album wasn’t a failure, it certainly wasn’t the huge success of their first two albums. On the other hand, the band was able to grow a solid and diverse fanbase around music lovers that had more respect for The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, or The Who than the more current trends. This led to the band continuing to find success on the road, and their diverse live performances kept their fans coming back for more.

Three Snakes and One Charm was released in 1996, and was the final album to feature the band’s “classic” lineup. Sales were decent and the album wasn’t a massive critical success (although it was far from a critical failure), and the band continued to find their home on the road. They toured with the Furthur Festival, featuring many Grateful Dead alumni, but discord began to become evident. The band parted ways with Ford and Colt, resulting in a bit of a rotating cast of guitarists and bassists that has continued to this day.

The band explored their soulful side on “By Your Side,” an album that was more stripped down than their previous two releases. This garnered significant critical acclaim, despite album sales only being mediocre. They did shows with Jimmy Page joining the band and toured with The Who. Their follow up album, Lions failed to garner as much support, but the “Tour of Brotherly Love” with Oasis (featuring two bands known to have family issues) was a success.

Unfortunately, the tension in the band became too much to bear, and drummer Steve Gorman announced that he was leaving the band. Shortly after the announcement, The Black Crowes announced an indefinite “hiatus.” Both brothers released solo albums with little success, although their live shows were well attended by Black Crowes fans. During interviews, neither brother showed much desire to bring the group back together, and each seemed to be enjoying their time away. After 4 years away, the band finally came back together in 2005 with a lineup that included the Richardsons, Gorman (who was brought back after a few shows with a different drummer), Sven Pipien on bass, Eddie Harsch on keys, and Marc Ford back in the band on guitar.

The band toured but took time before heading back into the studio. Ford and Harsch both left the band, but they were able to find solid replacements. Despite having songs in the bag after live performances, the album consisted almost entirely of new material that hadn’t been played live. Warpaint debuted at #5, although it didn’t have any major radio hits. Before the Frost was released in 2009 and included a companion download-only album Until the Freeze. The album produced the moderately successful single “I Ain’t Hidin'” and another solid tour. However, in 2010, the band again stated that they were taking a hiatus, although the animosity of the first hiatus didn’t appear to be present.

During the hiatus Chris Robinson began work on a new side project, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Due to the success of this band, it took nearly 3 years for the Crowes to come back together. When they reformed the new lineup included Jackie Greene on guitar instead of Luther Dickinson. They toured successfully throughout 2013 and released another live album. Despite rumors, however, the band didn’t return to the studio during this run and didn’t appear to be working on any new material. After the 2013 tour ended the band again went their separate ways without any concrete plans on when they would be getting back together.

Unfortunately, the tensions in the band surfaced again in 2015. There had been talk of a tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker. Disagreements about ownership of the band and who was entitled to be a part of the decision making process and share in the profits of The Black Crowes led to an abrupt breakup in January 2015. Both Chris and Rich Robinson as well as Steve Gorman (the only other member from the early days of the band) have discussed the breakup, and all have been emphatic that the hostility under the surface of the band makes it very unlikely that we’ll see another reunion from the group.

While The Black Crowes were unfortunately always plagued by internal strife, that doesn’t negate the great music that they made or the influence that they had. During a time when grunge reigned supreme, the Crowes showed that good ole’ Southern rock could still make an impact. They continued the tradition of bands like The Allman Brothers and Lynard Skynard, and they had great success while doing so. When it comes to rock bands, you never want to say “never” as far as a reunion, and hopefully the core members of the band can set aside their differences and come together once again. Until then, their music will continue to live on and their influences can be heard in many bands that come from those same roots.

Charles Bradley cancels tour
Charles Bradley, the Screamin’ Eagle of Soul, announced that he has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and immediately canceled all upcoming tour dates. He stated that he and the doctors are optimistic at the chances of a complete recovery.

Les Claypool announces NYE show at the Fox Theatre in Oakland
Les Claypool will celebrate his 25th NYE performance in the Bay Area with a show featuring 3 of his current projects. The show will feature Duo De Twang, The Lennon/Claypool Delirium, and Primus.

Hillberry Harvest Moon Festival
October 13-16
Eureka Springs, AR
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, The INfamous Stringdusters, The Travelin’ McCourys, The New Mastersounds, Turkuaz, Larry Keel

Suwannee Hulaween
October 28-30
The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
3 nights of The String Cheese Incident, My Morning Jacket, Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, Big Gigantic featuring The Motet, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Lettuce, Grensky Bluegrass, The Revivalists, Snarky Puppy

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Breathless Beach Resort & Spa
Punta Cana
Umphrey’s McGee, The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Joe Russo’s ALmost Dead, Lotus, Lettuce, Shpongle, The Floozies

Strings & Sol
December 9-13
New Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Yonder MOuntain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller & The Keels, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass

Jam Cruise
January 20-25
Sailing from Miami, FL
The Original Meters, moe., GRiZ, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Benevento Russo Duo, Lettuce, Kamasi Washinton, The Revivalists, The Motet, Beats Antique

Los Muertos Con Queso
January 25-28
Riviera Maya, Mexico
The String Cheese Incident, Bill Kreutzmann & Bob Weir with Dave Schools, Jeff Chimenti, and Tom Hamilton, Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Three Concerts On The Beach
February 23-25
Riviera Maya, Mexico

Panic En La Playa
February 27-March 3
Hard Rock Hotel
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Widespread Panic, Orgone, Southern Soul Assembly, Playa All Stars

Wanee Festival
April 20-22
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 21-23
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band, Slightly Stoopid, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Anders Osborne, Dark Star Orchestra, Twiddle

Mountain Jam
June 16-18
June 8-11
Manchester, TN

Electric Forest I
June 22-25
Rothbury, MI

Electric Forest II
June 29-July 2
Rothbury, MI

August 24-27
Arrington, VA

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!